Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Princes and Hermits

The novel, Black Hole, continues.

The story so far in brief:  Kailash Public School in Delhi is donated to Devlok Ashram by Sitaram Rana.  The Ashram was founded by Kailash Baba. Aaron Matthews from London was the most beloved disciple. Amarjeet and Mahendra contributed to the material welfare of the ashram.  Jane Abercrombie, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany, is disillusioned with Amarjeet who taught her the Non-Being of Kamasutra and gave her a son, Nitin, in the process. Mahendra discovers that he has a son back there in Kurukshetra and gets a new purpose for his existence. Rachel, Aaron's wife visits him in Delhi having obtained a free journey in the company of the Mountbattens who came to liberate India and the Great Britain from each other.  Rachel returns to England realising that she has lost Aaron to Indian spirituality.  Mohandas Gandhi's assassination eclipses the murder of Aaron by Amarjeet and Mahendra who have their own ambitions to which Aaron was a perceived hindrance.

Ishan Salman Panicker joined Kailash Public School as an English teacher the day a communal riot broke out in Gujarat in 2002. Ten years later, when Sitaram Rana, Mahendra's son, hands over the school to the newly founded Kailash Educational and Environmental Trust, Ishan's spirituality is stirred.  He begins to write a gospel.  Ishan's gospel has its roots in Shillong where he was born of hybrid parentage: a Keralite Hindu father and a Khasi Catholic mother, the latter of whom had a Bangladeshi Muslim father.  Shankara Panicker, Ishan's father, was one of the victims of Indira Gandhi's Emergency.  So Father Joseph Kunnel became the boy's guardian. The priest and the boy had little in common.  Eventually Ishan left Shillong along with his wife, Jenny, and got a job at Kailash whose Vice Principal questions how Ishan would make the school a choice of millions. A student knocks down a tooth of a teacher's son in a fight but the case is settled out of court because the teacher, Mr Mishra, has connections with political bigwigs.  

Read on:


The Mishra affair was settled out of the court.

“Kailash is more a battleground than a school,” declared Prakash Kothari, the Physical Education teacher with his usual know-all air.  Ishan looked into his deep eyes that sparkled with equal measures of youthful mischief and mature wisdom.   “It’s a Kurukshetra,” Prakash continued to enlighten Ishan.  “You may wonder who the Pandavas are and who the Kauravas.  Take your time and you will understand that.”

Ishan had already understood that there were basically two power blocs in Kailash, one centred round the Principal and the other, apparently more powerful, twirling around the Vice Principal. 

The flames of hatred had died down in Gujarat.  The media reported that more than 2000 Muslims were charred by those flames and at least fifty times that number were rendered homeless.  People became refugees in their own homelands.  The ashes of their homes and the scorched wails that lingered on in those ashes became a pain that smouldered in the veins.  Many people chose to abandon those ash heaps.  Yet another exodus was merging into the forgotten histories buried in the palimpsest of the country.  Wherever there are vanquished people, there are also winners, Ishan realised with a pang.  The winners obtained an unprecedented majority in the state election and Mr Narendra Modi was re-elected as the Chief Minister for the third time consecutively. 

The heat and dust raised by the Mishra affair in the air of Kailash had also settled down only to be kicked up again with another controversy.  Prakash Kothari’s remark was made in the light of the new controversy.

Dr Kavitha Varadarajan resigned as the biology teacher.  She was vanquished in her battle with Mr Pradeep Kumar Tandon, Vice Principal.

“She was making her own rules and regulations,” said Abhilash Sisodia, physics teacher.  Abhilash’s forehead was always smeared with a dash of sandal paste.  “It has religious associations,” Abhilash told Ishan once when the latter had enquired about it.  “But it is scientific like all the practices in Hinduism.”  He explained that sandal had a cooling effect.  The ancient sages used the sandal paste on their forehead and other parts of the body because of its cooling and calming effect.  “That was in the ancient days,” protested Ishan.  “Where do you get sandal now?”  “In the market,” answered Abhilash as if that was a self-evident truth.   The neem twigs which Abhilash chewed every morning during his morning walks did not come from the market, however.  The neem trees grew abundantly on each side of the road outside the school.  Abhilash chose to chew them when he was not brushing his teeth with them because the ancient sages brushed their teeth with neem twigs.

“What are those rules and regulations?” Ishan was curious about Dr Varadarajan.  She was one of the teachers whom Ishan had grown to like for some mysterious reason.  She was an elderly lady who lived a relatively secluded life in the school.  She seldom moved out of her lab.  She seldom allowed anyone inside it either.  Except the students and the lab assistant, nobody dared to enter the biology lab.  Ishan entered it once without knowing about the mystery that surrounded Dr Varadarajan.  He wanted her to be one of the judges for a debate competition that he was organising. 

“Why do you want me?” wondered Dr Varadarajan with an honest probing look into Ishan’s eyes.

“You are such a knowledgeable person,” Ishan explained innocently.  “My topic has something to do with genetic modification of plants.”

Following a brief discussion, she agreed to be a judge.  “But I have a request,” she added.

“Tell me, madam,” said Ishan.  Order me, that’s what he wanted to say actually.  There was something imperial about her in spite of the apparent gentleness.

“After the competition, you should wait in the auditorium until everybody leaves.  Wait with me.”

Ishan did not understand why she couldn’t leave with the others.  He consented instantly, however.

It was only when everybody had left the auditorium that Ishan understood the reason for her strange demand.  Standing up from her seat required some considerable effort.  The pain was palpable on her face.  Ishan rushed to help her.  He extended his hand. 

“No, I’ll manage.”  She rose slowly after shifting much of her weight to her hands which held the chair firmly.  “I have a problem with my back.”  She adjusted the belt beneath her sari.

“I’m sorry, I was not aware of it,” confessed Ishan.

“I know.”

The weeks that followed found Ishan entering the bio lab frequently.  He had nothing to tell her except wish her a good morning or ask her a casual ‘How are you?’  She smiled at him.  There was pain in the smile.  There was mystery in the smile.

Now she was leaving the school.

“She insisted on choosing by herself the students who would study biology.  She left no option to the school.”  Prakash Kothari explained.

“Even Boss Tandon had no say in the matter,” elaborated Abhilash Sisodia.

Ishan understood from them that Dr Varadarajan was particular about the academic calibre of the students who pursued her subject.  She would accept only those who passed her test and interview.  The admission procedure followed by the school mattered little to her.

“But that’s not the only reason.”  It was Hemant Hooda.  The psychology teacher had just joined them.  “She was becoming a threat to Boss Tandon.”

According to Hemant, Mr Tandon thought that the management would promote her to some high post because of her various merits.  She produced excellent academic results.  She was a strict disciplinarian.  She maintained a remarkably high sense of morality and excellence.  She possessed everything that Mr Sitaram Rana would appreciate.  “Except her dislike of the Devlok ashram and its activities.”

“Excellence is not always a merit,” explained Uttam Kumar Sharma when Ishan sat with him in his Hostel office after dinner.  “The students have a right to choose their subjects and Dr Varadarajan cannot make that choice, can she?”

“She wants only the best people to become doctors,” Ishan said.

Mr Sharma stared at him.  “Did you speak to her?”

“Yes,” said Ishan who had already learnt that he was the only staff member who could take such liberty with that lady.

“Not everyone who studies biology is going to become a medical practitioner,” said Mr Sharma matter-of-factly.

“Well,” Ishan had said precisely that to the lady.  ‘The students are more practical and career-oriented than you imagine, Mr Panicker,’ she answered.

“People are either blind like Dhritarashtra or blindfolded like Gandhari,” Mr Sharma drew a parallel from the Mahabharata.  “When you are blind you can only see inward.  Or what others report.”  He was not referring merely to the lady, apparently.

Dr Kavitha Varadarajan did not wait to prove who was blind and who had vision.  She left Kailash the very next day.  No one knew what lay within her.  No one wanted to know.  Except Ishan. 

“I’m retiring from the job,” she said when Ishan asked her what she was going to do. 

“But retiring is not something that anyone can do for a long time,” Ishan blurted out.

She smiled.  There was serenity in that smile.  There was resignation.

“Who is right and who is wrong?”  Ishan remembered what Mr Sharma had told him when he drew a parallel between Kailash and the Mahabharata.  “Duryodhana who is a villain in Vyasa’s epic is a hero in Bhasa’s classical play.”

Mr Sharma quoted Duryodhana of Bhasa’s Dutavakya.  “Kingship is enjoyed by brave princes after conquering their foes in battle.  The men of tranquil minds will find their place in the hermitage.”



Chapter 1: The Original Sin

Chapter 2: A Gospel

2.2 Dkhar
     2.4 Cry from Calvary
     2.5 The Lost Sheep
     2.8 The Y Chromosome
     Chapter 3: Heart of Darkness
     3.1 Heart of Darkness
     3.4 Longings

Chapter 4: Choice of Millions
4.2 Slogans


  1. I find the topic of debate cleverly chosen one - genetic modification of plants.....genetic modification has ethical issues, like the ones surrounding the Ashram, the school and the authorities. Sorry for not being a regular on your blog lately. As you know I was preoccupied with Lata's book. Task completed, I have free time...But I did check to see if you had posted the next chapter....Black Hole had been absconding for some time...:)

    1. Glad you're here and apology for the truancy of Black Hole. :)


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